Friday the 25th of April
Effortless sailing to Ventotene, though the wind did get somewhat boisterous upon arrival. I made for the old port (originally carved out of the bedrock by the Romans) and moored bow-to to the quay.
I don’t even try to berth stern-to with Eileen of Avoca. The slightest breeze makes maneuvering in reverse (an arcane art practiced by only a few brave Yarmouth 23 owners) an unpredictable and potentially hazardous exercise.
This island is a scuba divers paradise but has little else to offer tourists on an extended stay. As I looked over the produce displayed on a small three-wheeled van the purveyor came to tout his wares. “Seven Euro and made with my own hands” he stated enthusiastically while I examined a jar of pickled capsicum. After this unexpected proclamation I couldn’t help but turn to examine his dirt-encrusted fingers as he reached for the jar.
I reluctantly abandoned my intended purchase.
Thursday the 24th of April
At first light I cast off to brave the persistent swell at the entrance to Fiumicino. With considerable trepidation I watched the sets of breakers and timed my exit. The rain from earlier in the week had swollen the current, steepening the oncoming swell. I didn’t want to be in the wrong place should a large set of waves break, so I set the engine to full throttle and powered through the danger zone. Safe!
Hoisting the sails I adjusted my course (150°) for Ponza (60NM away). There was not much in the way of scenery but the settling sea and favourable westerly breeze were more than enough to keep my spirits high.
By 19:00 I was carefully threading my way through the shoals off Punta Rossa arriving at Porto di Ponza soon afterward. I had no luck contacting the private “mini-marina” staff by radio so I made fast to the first pontoon confident that someone would not be long in stopping by to extract a fee. I did not have to wait long. A quote of 10 Euros per meter (subsequently reduced to 50 Euro after observing my startled reaction) saw miserly me off to set anchor in the bay (beyond the buoys marking the ferry-maneuvering zone). Contrary to what is stated in my pilot, it is permitted to use this free anchorage.
In the remaining light I set about inflating my tender (a Sevylor diving kayak). Keeping a dry backside in this contraption which has an access hatch at its centre is a bit of a challenge but despite this I’ve convinced myself it was an excellent purchase. (see: http://www.nextag.com/sevylor-diveyak/search-html)
After a brief morning wander through the bustling port and side streets of Ponza in search of fresh bread and a strong espresso, I paddled back to Eileen on a caffeine high, and weighed anchor.
On Friday night (21st) and Saturday morning, I drove to Civitavecchia (1500km non-stop) to take the Tirennia ferry to Olbia leaving at 23:00.
This time I was in the company of my girlfriend Eva and she shared a little of the driving. I did not want to leave Eileen of Avoca in the water so long, but consistent poor weather prevented me from making the passage to Rome any earlier.
Whether or not the next forecast would show settled conditions was anyone’s guess but if necessary, I vowed to spend the whole holiday period sitting in my boat waiting for the appropriate weather window.
I’d probably have to find a new girlfriend after that, but as it turned out we were lucky. A check via the Internet on Saturday (www.eurometeo.com) indicated an imminent improvement in the weather, and despite the rain we would not have to contend with the 4 to 7 meter waves that had been a feature of previous weeks.
Hot coffee in hand I made plans for our imminent departure.
Impressed as I was with Porto Rotondo, I had planned to finish my trip in Olbia, a mere 4 hours away by boat (25 minutes by car). After checking the forecast for the next few days with the marina office, I set sail.
Three hours later, just outside the buoyed channel to Olbia harbour, I experienced my first taste of the unpredictable Sirocco winds. It had been an easy run past Punta Filasca headland into Gulfo Aranci and I was already bringing down the mainsail when Eileen shuddered as we were hit by an incredibly strong and sustained wind from the SSE. Although somewhat sheltered by the bays southern peninsula, the mainsail was not fully lowered making the next few minutes interesting to say the least.
By the time I had motored the last five miles into the port the wind had dropped to a gentle breeze and tying up against the old commercial quay proved a cinch.
I spent one night on the exposed wall (no charge) and made enquiries about extending my stay in the nearby marinas. Contrary to the information published in my pilot book, visitors are not so welcome here. I quickly concluded that Porto Rotondo was a far superior place to leave my boat and resolved to return there in the morning.